There was no shortage of star power for the visiting baseball team at Crawfordsville High School on Friday night, but the Athenians were the better team — picking up a 4-2 win over Portage Central (Michigan), who was ranked No. 9 in the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Division I preseason rankings.
Crawfordsville was spared by the absence of Luke Leto, who was unavailable for Portage due to COVID-19. Leto is a 2021 LSU commit as a shortstop. The Mustangs ace pitcher, Gavin Brasosky played first-base so he could pitch against West Vigo in game two of their double-header — an eventual 7-5 win for the Mustangs. Portage coach Cory DeGroote is the brother of West Vigo coach Culley DeGroote — both the sons of legendary Vikings coach Steve DeGroote.
Don’t let that diminish the Athenian win though — they schedule good opponents for a reason — and they schedule them with the intentions of winning. Just like they did on Friday.
“Coach Welliever (Rhett) and I have the same philosophy when we schedule and coach Froedge did a great job of getting quality opponents on our non-conference schedule,” first-year Crawfordsville coach Brett Motz said. “In order to compete at the highest level, you have to be able to understand what quality competition is day in and day out, and to be able to make that pitch, make that play, execute that bunt. So all of us in combination with what has happened and now what we have going on, we are all understanding that to be a quality program you have to play quality programs all the time in order to maintain that level of intensity and concentration that it takes to win big games.”
The Mustangs, who are the high school home of Wabash College football and basketball star Pete Metzelaars, (1-1) loaded the bases with nobody out in the top half of the first inning, but Crawfordsville starting pitcher Henry Taylor was able to work out of the jam by only allowing one run after hitting Kobe Mason, which scored lead-off man Zach MacDonald. Taylor recorded two strikeouts and a groundout to escape the jam.
“There’s no question it could have (gotten away),” Motz said. “There’s no question the baseball Gods were fully rooting for us tonight during that situation, because there’s no question that you get a quality team like that with the bases loaded to start the game off, nine times out of 10, they’re going to break an inning open.”
The Athenians tied it in the bottom of the frame on a RBI double by Zach Fichter with two outs that scored Andrew Martin.
“All the credit goes to Henry for not having his best stuff and probably a little nervous to start, but again getting a break here and a break there and all the sudden we get out of the inning with only one run,” Motz added. “It was an enormous boost for us, and then for Zach to hit the ball hard and score a run to break it even, it was definitely a confidence booster for us to say ‘you know what we can do this.’”
Crawfordsville then worked into a groove. They took the lead in the third inning when Martin drove in Austin Motz with a base-hit after Motz reached on an infield single. Martin later scored on an infield single by Fichter. The Athenians added a run of insurance in the fifth when Motz scored on a wild pitch.
And as the game went on, Taylor got sharper. The Mustangs had two on with one out in the second, but Taylor worked out of it with a strikeout and groundout. Portage never threatened again, scoring a single run on a solo home run by MacDonald, a Miami (OH) commit, in the fourth inning.
“Henry going seven innings wasn’t what we thought was going to happen before this game started, but he finally starting feeling his pitches and he got in a groove and we just didn’t want to take him out of that groove,” Motz said. “So give him a lot of credit for sticking with it. He’s put in the work. He’s a baseball guy that has played a lot of baseball and has the confidence. He worked his butt off this winter and made every single winter workout and knows in his mind that he can do it and he can perform.”
Taylor earned the win with seven innings pitched, allowing two runs on four hits, walking one and striking out eight. Fichter had two hits and two runs driven in.